Author: Dr. Herb Sorensen (From Shopper Scientist Views)
With this issue of the Views we will pursue further how to train shoppers to buy, in either a cacophonous, or a “silent” marketplace.
Marketers are much given to attempting to communicate with shoppers, conscious mind to conscious mind, even though as much as 95% of a shoppers behavior is under subconscious, autonomic control. To help us understand why we don’t even understand our own shopping, much less anyone else’s, consider this fact: in a typical day your eye muscles move around 100,000 times. See: “Portable Eyetracking: A Study of Natural Eye Movements”
All of this movement is a consequence of the fact that your point of focus has to keep moving to avoid burning an image onto your retina. You can over-ride the movement, to an extent, by forcing yourself to stare at an image. You can demonstrate this by staring at an image for several seconds, holding your focus steady, and then looking away to a blank wall, for example, where you will see a quite perfectly formed negative image of whatever you had stared at. You’ve burned out the pigments for that image, causing the negative to appear. Fortunately, that negativeimage only lasts for as long as it takes your eye to regenerate the visual pigments.
Really, you look at so much in a typical day that you can hardly be expected to manage adjusting your focus several times a second. Instead, your subconscious, autonomic mind, manages this process for you, quite efficiently. This doesn’t mean that your conscious mind can’t take over at any instant to provide executive instructions to the eye to look over here, or look at that, etc. But it remains that the eye will obey you and then immediately begin its own ceaseless scanning, focusing and reporting to the brain what is going on here in the “outside” world.
The Clutter Filter
Now that we have established what the eye is doing, generally, during the shopping trip, let’s look at some specifics. As we have noted before, half of all trips to supermarkets result in the purchase of five or fewer items, and half from six to perhaps several dozen. In any case, navigating to, and selecting those items is driven by habitual navigation – with some executive mind input; as well as selection from possibly 40,000 items, again driven by a subconscious, habitual process, with some executive mind “supervision.”
NOTICE: It may be difficult to grasp the significance of this habitual mind/executive mind interaction, since you are processing this reading with your executive mind, and probably give little conscious thought to your subconscious thinking – that’s what it is: subconscious, below your consciousness. It is difficult for me, too, but I have the advantage of actually observing and measuring truckloads of shopping behavior, as well as interviewing shoppers. Interviewing is a conscious mind activity, from the shopper’s conscious mind to the researcher’s conscious mind. The stark contrast between what and how shoppers do and what and how they say they do, is typically great – and very significant. Conscious mind (shopper) to conscious mind (researcher) makes a lot of sense. But it is often a poor representation of reality. Possibly even worse, researchers are often so committed to their own conscious thoughts that it doesn’t occur to them that their “findings” are really what they already tended to believe. This problem is referred to as “confirmation bias.” We are here making a serious effort to avoid this problem; and to come to grips with reality. This comes from a respect for how shoppers actually behave, and why. Behavior is definitive of reality. Observe – measure – manage!
The Selection Process
Next, we’ll focus on the selection process itself, and begin by noting that the real challenge is less the selection of the few items, than the elimination from consideration of the nearly 40,000 items not wanted. This is where the eyes excel in ignoring massive amounts of information, based on habits and subtle cues – essentially a “clutter filter” that dismisses as clutter the vast majority of what comes within eye-sight. This is the great challenge for the marketer: how to break through the clutter filter.
Two Types of “Clutter”
In our first example of clutter, we focus only on the clutter that originates with the retailer themselves, and not the clutter created by the brand suppliers, which will follow. For convenience we can refer to the first type as “retail clutter;” and the second as “brand clutter.” This is an important distinction because retailers and branded product suppliers have different roles at the shelf and we must make a distinction in how they execute their own responsibilities, regardless of the competence of the other party.
In the aisle on the left, there are probably hundreds of different SKUs, and, although each product can speak for itself, the display is essentially silent. It is a clean aisle, and is the functional equivalent of a warehouse aisle, with the merchandise arranged for the convenience of the “stock-picker.” In this case the stock-picker is a “SELF”-service shopper. There is nothing in this common “clean aisle” format that actually contributes to the selling of anything – apart from providing an opportunity for each product to speak for, and potentially sell, itself.
On the right is an example of ineffectual selling, where the retailer is not silent, but “shouting” from the display. One, or even maybe two of those “Hot Buy” shelf talkers, might have played a significant sales role, generating real lift. But this blizzard of talkers is the functional equivalent of shouting at the shopper, and the subconscious mind recognizes this as, not communication, but just more noise in the environment.
Remember, the shopper is going to buy a relatively few items in this store on any given shopping trip. This necessarily means that the default function of the subconscious, habitual mind, is to discard, Discard, DISCARD! And no one likes to be shouted at. In fact, all the shouting is more likely to discourage shoppers from approaching this display.
On the other hand, the properly silent shelf can be converted to a genuine salesman, with correct, and severely limitedovert communication, with carefully targeted shoppers. Here is an illustration, where 50 top seller tags, properly distributed around the store, delivered double digit increases on top of already initial high volume sales for those 50 items, with the result being a 4% increase for the entire grocery department! The “Top Seller” tags:
And the data for a few of the 50 items:
This is one illustration of the effective use of “whispering” communication targeting the subconscious/habitual mind. The very limited deployment of the 50 small “Top Seller” tags across the entire store – without any reset of the products – shows how effective “whispering” to the shopper can be, as contrasted with the blizzard of shouting “Hot Buy” tags cited for the earlier display – discussed above. After illustrations from several brands, we will discuss further why these strategies are effective, and the why-and-how of in-store marketers learning to use some of that 95% of shopper behavior that marketers ignore.
“Brand Clutter” from Suppliers
So for the brand supplier, retail clutter at varying levels is part of the problem in getting through to shoppers. It’s hard to have a conversation in a very noisy place. Of course, the brand supplier can jump into the fray, with promotional money, and attempt to out-shout the crowd. But brand efforts always come back to the #1 communication device of the brand, within the store – their own packages. ANY promotional efforts should be built on the package itself – and this includes the mass advertising outside the store that should integrate closely with the package. For any product already enjoying significant market success, the mass advertising outside the store should conform to the already success of the product, and NOT attempt to wholesale redesign the packaging to conform with the mass advertising outside the store. This is the nut kernel of the problem Neale Martin has so well addressed in his book, which is essentially about marketing to the subconscious: Habit: The 95% of Behavior Marketers Ignore. Now for some illustrations of whispering vs. shouting (or mumbling) on the package, or on in-store promotional materials:
Here we see the brand trying to talk to the shopper by shouting to them, (notice the extensive text descriptions in the headings,) but it is just as likely to come across as mumbling, given the amount of other brand marketers also trying to have a conversation with the shoppers. On the other hand, here is a more effective whispering to the shoppers:
Particularly, contrast the wordiness at the top of the shouting/mumbling graphics. Compare this to the simplicity of the “whispered” messages. But there is a good deal more to the whispered messages than the simplicity that lends itself to the visual cues that the subconscious translates complex messages into. Hint: complex messages are processed by the mind into bite size symbols. In other words, they are rarely used by the shopper in the shopping process. The shopper is often NOT attempting to make a rational thoughtful decision at all, but to simply find products, and validate decisions she has already made, possibly months or even years ago.
Now consider a similar strategy used to sell Jif peanut butter at the shelf:
I’ve commented on this before in How to Sell the Few, Among the Many? There I discussed the role of the #1, as a powerful and simple marker for the subconscious mind, and noted the near empty shelf for the “#1” marked product, even though a similar marker was used on adjacent products; without the #1, and obviously without the sales! For the Unilever products illustrated above, note the strong social marketing use of both “America’s Favorite,” and the more credible use of the same marker across a suite of products in different categories. As long as the categories/subcategories are sufficiently distinct to the shopper, there is NO conflict with having more “#1s” or “favorites”. (For the multi-brand supplier, this is similar to the retailer’s use of the same marker on a limited numberof products, around the store.) So the Jif example is an excellent use of #1, but it is weakened, to some extent, by trying to use a similar graphic on another product in the line. So the question is, was the goal here to blur or muddy the line between “#1” and a faux-“#1”? This is moving in “shouting” direction, the natural inclination of all too much “marketing” in the stores.
Here is another example, where “whispering” delivered better sales than “shouting/mumbling.” The large amount of text below the main label contributes to a mumbling appearance to a shopper whizzing by, and the photos further increase the complexity. The switch to the gold medal background and slight rotation of the brand would probably work if all that wonderful blank space in the whispering package hadn’t been obscured. I understand. I’ve had lots of experience with over-communication myself. 😉
The Whisper, Shout (mumble) Hypothesis
What follows is a hypothesis for tying the data and observations together into a coherent explanation of how to use these insights to increase sales for a brand, suite of brands, category or for a full store. There is a chain of linked bullet points below that provide something of a blueprint.
Steps in Training the Shopper – How and Why it Works!
Do you get it? It’s just one of the components of double-digit sales increases year after year – focus on the winners, your best selling products AND your best customer/shoppers, training them to make purchases easier and you will be a winner, too!
Here’s to GREAT “Shopping” for YOU!!!
January 4, 2013